Washington, D.C. – Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is initiating an audit of USDA actions that may have contributed to the spread of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in meat processing facilities and other agricultural processing facilities. The USDA OIG initiated this audit in response to Bennet’s request for an investigation in August.
“Early in the pandemic, meat processing plants saw some of the highest rates of COVID-19 infections, harming a workforce predominantly comprised of immigrants, refugees, and people of color, and raising serious questions about any federal actions that may have contributed to the spread of the virus in these facilities,” said Bennet. “Hardworking Americans who are serving on the front lines during this crisis deserve answers. I’m glad the USDA Inspector General is making it a priority to get to the bottom of this.”
The USDA OIG investigation will address specific concerns Bennet raised in his August letter, including inquiries into:
- USDA actions following the Executive Order on April 28, 2020 that invoked the Defense Production Act
- USDA actions taken to communicate the federal government’s authority, standards, and expectations with State Departments of Health; and
- USDA actions taken to ensure health and safety of inspectors, and protocols in response to COVID-19 positive tests at meat processing facilities.
Bennet has continuously raised concerns regarding the health and safety of workers at meat processing facilities and other agricultural processing facilities during the pandemic. In April, Bennet sent a letter urging Vice President Mike Pence and other members of the Trump Administration to help ensure the safety of the nation’s food supply and to protect essential workers in the food supply chain during the pandemic. In May, Bennet sent a letter to Pence requesting an update on the delivery of promised testing and PPE to protect workers at the JBS meatpacking plant in Greeley. In the letter, he highlighted the importance of testing to protect the workers, their families, and the surrounding communities and safeguard our nation’s food supply. Later that same month, Bennet and his colleagues raised concerns about the Trump Administration’s Executive Order that pressured meat processing facilities to open without verifying the necessary safety measures to protect workers and the food supply. In June, Bennet joined UFCW Local 7 in Greeley to honor the hardworking UFCW Local 7 members who lost their lives while serving on the front lines of the pandemic.
More information on the scope of the USDA OIG inspection is available HERE.